Green Fund Takes the Long View on Sustainability

Green Fund Committee members at Old Main, the UA's first structure built 125 years ago using environmentally sound principles of the day, such as thick brick walls for insulation and wide wrap-around verandas to create cooling shade.
April 14, 2011

This year, the University of Arizona will begin to get return on a project that has been in the works for over four years. But while this project is just starting to get off the ground, its vision reaches far into the future and will change campus forever, for the better.

In March of 2010, the UA Regents approved an allocation whereby twenty-four dollars of each student’s tuition—two dollars a month—now goes towards the UA Green Fund. Today, the Green Fund Committee, a group of ten undergraduate and graduate students, has the responsibility of soliciting and evaluating proposals for how to spend the money, which at this time amounts to $400,000.

Originally an off-shoot of ASUA Sustainability, the Green Fund Committee was co-founded in 2007 by students Leslie Ash and Lon Huber and represents the culmination of a strategy that has grown and evolved to become much more than a student special-interest group.

The Green Fund is a driving force for long-term change on campus. 

“Originally, this started as students getting together who wanted to do projects like dorm improvements,” says Joe Abraham, Director of Sustainability at the University. The problem was that these groups would spend all their time raising money and then graduate before they could get their projects off the ground.

But Huber, now an MBA student on the verge of graduating from the Eller College of Management, had a different view. He had a long-term vision.

“Our mission is about education, environmental savings and financial savings,” he says. “To make an impact, we needed organization. We needed to bring institutional support and continuity to it.”

So Huber wrote a business plan, built a team and did the legwork to prove that it could work. He got donations and made the necessary connections across the UA and Tucson communities to get it off the ground.

Now, that the fund is up and running, the committee members have the opportunity of deciding how to spend the money. Their responsibilities include setting priorities for funding allocation strategies, developing and implementing communications strategies about their efforts, creating and managing the proposal process and accounting for the funds received, allocated and held.

This forward-thinking group of individuals includes:

  • Peter Burns, graduate student in agricultural economics

  • Alex Harris, undergraduate student in chemical engineering

  • Lon Huber, MBA student and Green Fund committee chair

  • Polly Juang, undergraduate student in engineering management

  • Matthew Scholtz, graduate student in agricultural and biosystems engineering

  • Spencer Sussman, graduate student in natural resources and the environment

  • Nicholas Theisen, graduate student in business administration

  • Chad Travis, undergraduate student in pre-business

  • Garrett Voge, undergraduate student in pre-business

  • Caleb Weaver, undergraduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology and geosciences

Committee advisors include Joe Abraham; Kriss Pope, Director of Finance and Administration; and Jim Van Arsdel, Assistant Vice President for Residence Life.

The 2011 collection of proposals have come from all parts of campus, as anyone can submit their ideas, from students to faculty to staff. The first round of proposals was due on February 7, and the Committee made its first decisions as to which projects would get funding in March.

“We just had our first allocation meeting,” reports Huber, “and we’re preparing to transition it to our new committee members (for 2011/2012). We’re laying the foundation so that the new group can hit the ground running.”

The Committee received a total of thirty-two proposals and decided to fund twenty of them either partially or in full. Project ideas ranged from $150,000 to apply a reflective coating to one-quarter of the buildings on campus, on down to $900.00 to print customized environmental messages like “Remember to turn out the lights!” on condom packages.

On that note, the condom initiative—while hotly debated—passed with a six-to-four vote.

Other proposals that won funding include:

  • $90,111 for a project led by Mark Riley, head of the Agricultural-Biosystems Engineering Department, to work with students in implementing a process for turning 500 gallons of waste cooking oil from campus kitchens into biodiesel each month for campus vehicles.

  • A $43,000 plan to retrofit all of the lighting in the UA’s 2nd Street Parking Garage with a high-efficiency LED system that will pay for itself within a few short years and then continue to save money and energy in the years and decades that follow.

  • A $13,908 effort to perform a carbon inventory and benefits analysis of all of the trees on campus through the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum. Through calculating how much carbon the trees sequester, the shade they provide and other variables, provide the project will end up producing useful data including a monetary value of the Arboretum in terms of energy savings.

  • A partnership of eight organizations—some on-campus, some out in the community—to spend $16,222 to implement community gardens with rentable plots based on a “you-grow-it-you-keep-it” model. Half of the plots will be for students, while the other half will be rented to the community. According to project lead and senior geosciences major Caleb Weaver, project managers would eventually like to have a veggie stand and even chickens on the first site just north of the UA’s Highland Parking Garage.

  • $120,740 for the creation of a 100-level general education course called “Consumers, Environment and Sustainable Consumption,” with a curriculum created by Sabrina Helm, Ph.D. of the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

In the end, the Green Fund and the Green Fund Committee embody how we all need to think about sustainability and environmental efforts in our own lives. If we are to truly affect change for a healthier planet, we need to have the courage and vision to take the long view.

Info about UA Earth Day activities and events is available at http://earthday.arizona.edu and http://www.facebook.com/UAEarthDay.

Learn more about the Green Fund and review all of this year's proposals at http://www.studentaffairs.arizona.edu/greenfund/